Gifts of the Season
Legendary lyricist Sammy Cahn once wrote about the holiday season, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love.” Blessedly for contemporary jazz fans, that means more than simply getting cozy by the fire, hearing sleigh bells ring, dashing through the snow and lighting the tree. If it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, there’s musical magic in the air – and Dave Koz, as reliably joyful and magical as Santa, is coming to town once again.

In addition to headlining the 22nd Annual Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour – a whirlwind of 22 shows in 25 days with Melissa Manchester, Jonathan Butler, Michael Lington and Chris Walker – the chart-topping, GRAMMY®-nominated saxophonist is dropping a special musical present for his loyal fans and kids from 1 to 92. Koz’s latest holiday album, Gifts of the Season – released by the artist’s Just Koz Entertainment, Inc. – makes the ideal companion piece for this year’s slate of shows. Produced, recorded and mixed by Darren Rahn (Wayman Tisdale, Toby Keith, Bob James), the multi-faceted, 11-track collection features all four of the artists who are joining Koz on the 2019 tour.

Twenty-two years after releasing his first Christmas-themed set, December Makes Me Feel This Way, Koz takes a very different stylistic approach. In addition to being more instrumental and sax-centric, Gifts of the Season has a buoyant, funky/pop feel that Koz says “takes me back to my smooth jazz roots.” Vibe-wise, their model was Koz’s Gold-certified 1999 album, The Dance – one of his biggest-selling and most critically acclaimed releases. The Dance included the hits “Together Again” and “Can’t Let You Go (The Sha La Song),” which featured the late Luther Vandross.

“Besides being an incredible producer, Darren is a phenomenal saxophonist himself. He understands how to bring out the best in me,” Koz says. “Rather than wear so many hats, I wanted to return to the idea of just showing up and playing the horn – and putting as much emotion and heart into the sax as possible. I know when I put on those headphones, he will have me on the best mic, with exactly the kind of reverb I want to hear. His arrangements were so spot-on that we were able to record 11 tracks in his Denver studio in only three days.”

The diverse session reflects Koz and Rahn’s desire to find fresh, interesting and inviting ways to experience Christmas classics from different eras. With the exception of the timely, piano and soprano-driven closing ballad, “A Prayer for Peace” – written by Koz – the songs are familiar holiday favorites, re-imagined in ways that shed new light on their rich musicality and lyrical depth.

“Half the album is completely new material for me, and the other half is made up of songs I’ve recorded before. Thanks to Darren’s imaginative arrangements, the songs are delivered in ways that I never could have expected, so they became new again for me,” Koz says. “After completing the basic sessions, we worked with our guest artists in their home studio spaces to capture them at their most intimate, powerful best.” 

A perfect example of the way a different twist can change the entire emotional trajectory of a song is Melissa Manchester’s passionate rendering of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” As a soulful ballad, it offers a deeper understanding of the lyrics than the lighthearted original version. As Koz says, “It’s one of the most played holiday songs on the radio every year, but because it’s so up-tempo, it’s easy to overlook that it’s got a lot of meat on its bones. Melissa’s version makes you stop and pay attention.” Likewise, pairing the soul intensity of Michael Lington’s alto with Koz’s tenor drives the explosive, blues/funk romp “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Koz always keeps in mind how well material will sound with the sax, and he’s excited about bringing that one to the stage with Lington, his longtime friend.

Jonathan Butler brings his gritty, soul/gospel energy to colorful takes on secular classics from two different eras – a groovin’, African chant-spiced version of the nearly 70-year-old “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” and a swinging, festive bounce through Donny Hathaway’s oft-covered, 70’s smash, “This Christmas.” The latter features Koz on soprano and Rahn keeping it old-school on Wurlitzer and Hammond organ. The saxman recently hired Jones Andyou, a Finnish animator, to create an animated video of “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” featuring images of Koz and Butler. The other recording/touring pal who knocks it out of the park is Chris Walker – singer, bassist and former Al Jarreau musical director. He delivers the perfect blend of solemnity and classic soul power on a sparsely-produced rendition of “Mary Did You Know.”

Longtime Koz fans know that he has recorded “Winter Wonderland” several times. He wasn’t sure he wanted to have another go – until Rahn sent him his multi-tempo, synth/dance arrangement, complete with wintry wind sound effects. “It reminds me of ‘Missing’ by Everything But the Girl,” Koz says. “So unique, trippy and outside the box.” Rahn’s funky, dance-jam spin on Wham’s mid-80’s smash, “Last Christmas” – complete with whimsical synth swirls and Koz’s snazzy tenor, soprano, alto and bari sax textures – is one of the album’s most compelling instrumental tracks. “Never in a million years did I think it would make a great vehicle for the sax,” Koz recalls, “It was such a blast to play – so funky and danceable, with that cool, built-up sax section.” 

Another vocalist Koz is excited to showcase on Gifts of the Season is Matt Cusson. His Take-6-like vocal textures combine with Koz’s cool tenor to bring renewed poignancy to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The collection also features a light-funk take (complete with a hypnotic choir of vocals and energizing horn textures) on “O Come All Ye Faithful” and a silky, sensual take on Koz’s favorite holiday chestnut, “White Christmas.”

The 2019 Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour wraps up another action-packed year for the saxophonist. He took the Dave Koz & Friends at Sea experience to Australia for two sold-out weeks last spring. Sharing a slice of the cruise’s onstage magic, the nine-time GRAMMY nominee added another hit to his nearly 30-year, 11 No. 1 Billboard album discography with Dave Koz Presents: Live from the Dave Koz Cruise.

Building on the massive success of his two Summer Horns albums (including the most recent, 2018’s Summer Horns II From A to Z), Koz hit the road this past summer with Gerald Albright, Rick Braun, Kenny Lattimore, Aubrey Logan and Adam Hawley. Koz, who has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, also finds time to host two radio programs: “The Dave Koz Radio Show,” on the air uninterrupted for 25 years, and “The Dave Koz Lounge,” which can be heard on SiriusXM.

For over 25 years, Koz has served as global ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation – an organization dedicated to improving the lives of hospitalized children worldwide. In what’s become an annual tradition, he donates the money raised by the Dave Koz & Friends at Sea silent auctions to help the heroic kids served by Starlight. This year’s donation will provide state-of-the-art Virtual Reality headsets to 100 children’s hospitals along this year’s Christmas tour route. Another continuing Koz tradition is KOZ Wines, which have helped raise over a million dollars for Starlight over the years. KOZ Wines recently introduced a new KOZ Rosé, available now at Whole Foods Markets in Southern California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada.

“One of the reasons I continue to record this music and tour every year is that the holidays are a reminder for all of us about the things that matter most. It’s a time when we seem more capable of living our best lives,” Koz explains. “It’s easy to get off course during the year, especially with all the antagonism and intolerance in our world. The holidays help bring us back to center. That’s what ‘A Prayer for Peace’ is also – a way to express that music is perhaps our one last vestige of uniting people who may be at odds in other areas of life. I am delighted to see that my cruises are populated by people of every race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. They’re a true melting pot that comes together for a week to celebrate music and each other.

“The title Gifts of the Season is personal to me on many levels,” he adds. “It’s not about the presents under the tree, but the gift of showing love and appreciation. Using my saxophone for full expression allows me to show how much I love and care about the fans who have made our holiday show an annual tradition. As I approach the 30th anniversary of the release of my debut album, nobody is more surprised than I am by the career I have had – and the ongoing support I’ve received from my fans. I have been blessed with so many gifts and, in turn, I am honored to have the opportunity to share the gift of music with people around the world. It’s not only been a dream come true, but an honor and a privilege to continue to deliver a message of love, unity and happiness through music.” 





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